Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Midnight in Paris (2011)

Then  After waiting and waiting and waiting for a British blu-ray release of Midnight In Paris, I eventually bought a dvd from ebay, accidentally because I thought I was using a discount code but the code failed to work. I’ve then sat on it for a couple of months, well, it’s sat on a shelf waiting until the end of the Olympics then the innumerable other some would say “projects” others might say “displacement strategies” were completed. But after receiving a copy of Woody Allen: The Documentary from Lovefilm by accident and knowing that was released after this, and since the copy of Tinker Tailer Solidier Spy then sent me is covered in scratches and unwatchable I decided that life’s too short, whatever works, and watched it tonight.  As usual, the following assumes you've seen the film already.

Now  This is probably entirely the wrong time to be writing about Midnight in Paris. For a start, the clocks are going back tonight so we’ll be having two midnights, but I’m in such a good mood, so pleased that one of my favourite directors is still capable of producing such a clever, thematically interesting, beautifully shot and properly funny (something which wasn’t the case for his last film) that’s still making me smile even as I type. When Midnight in Paris was being garlanded with awards and nominations, I did consider if there’s was a certain amount of condescending sympathy about it, that perhaps they’re simply recognising that Woody’s managed to produce something at least slightly above his usual latter average.

Well, yes, no, yes. I was wrong. From the introductory shots of Paris designed to educate the audience with his protagonist Owen Wilson’s Gil’s view that the city is at its most beautiful when its raining, we’re in the hands of the man who so deftly communicated the scene changes in Everyone Says I Love You and the then contemporary nostalgia of Manhattan. All of the elements of Woody’s style which seemed so studded and calcified in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, long scenes taking place in masters, the overlapping improvised dialogue, the massive cast of relative famous actors providing tiny cameos in non-New York locations become strengths again. This is the Woody Allen of old. Just like his character, the Paris air’s brought inspiration.

But interestingly, he manages all this by repeating the fish out of water storyline which he’s returned to throughout his career, of a character flirting or becoming addicted to some cultural aspect not their own. Going backwards, it’s what fuels Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, Celebrity, Bullets Over Broadway, Alice, The Purple Rose of Cairo and arguably Bananas. But unlike most of those films, there isn’t a tragic underpinning; while Gil loses both of his loves in the end, it’s about him gaining an education, he doesn’t really have to or even fight to keep his 1920s sojourns and there’s no suggestion at the end that he can’t go back there or won’t, even if he greets midnight on the other side of town from the portal position.

The key, I think, is that he keeps the story focus on Gil. Some of his more recent films have bloated because he’s cut away to the supporting characters. The Midnight In Paris version of that would have been to see the affair between Rachel McAdams’s Inez and Michael Sheen’s Paul (ironically since the actors are partners in real life) but with the exception of Inez’s father’s hiring of the private detective, Gil remains the audience’s viewpoint character, so we’re kept on the journey with him, never quite sure until some way into the film, if his time travel experience is some mental collapse or boozy dream. Like him, we just deliriously go along with it, typified by the moment when Woody cuts to a close-up of Gil letting the experience take hold.

Unlike Gil, we’re enjoying the double pleasure of not just meeting the 1920s Parisian icons, but the actors playing them and then marvelling at how perfectly cast they are. Of course Tom Hiddleston’s playing Scott with Alison Pill as Zelda. It’s amazing Adrien Brody hasn’t already starred in a Dali biopic (and really should on the strength of this). Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein? Of course she is. Bates incidentally previously appeared in an Allen film as a prostitute in Shadows and Fog, a film which though stylistically and thematically different, shares Midnight In Paris’s idea of a protagonist becoming lost in the streets after dark.

Like some of Woody’s other genre pieces there’s also little discussion of the mechanics of time travel. The car pulls up, Gil gets in, meets TS Elliot or whoever and is taken back in time. Sometimes he’s able to shift about unaccompanied in that time period, sometimes it disappears from him. But the diary indicates he is time travelling as does one of the director’s masterful jump cut jokes towards the end (up there with the cut to Rebecca Hall in the back of the plane in VCB). Does Gil change history? It doesn’t matter. How is he able to just bump into famous people? Not important. Plus, like Groundhog Day, it’s a strictly agnostic divine interventionist film, no Clarence the Angel pulling the strings.

The PI subplot is about the only moment which suggests changes made in editing.  It's introduced as though its going to be an element of tension, that perhaps the revelation will cause Inez's father to come between Gil and his time travelling antics.  But it does end in a joke.  Similarly the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway rather fall out of the story too, but there is a feature of Gil shifting between these "personalities" as he goes on his journey, each providing him with some new insight.  As ever, Woody's not provided a commentary and his interviews don't really tackle such technical aspects so we'll have to speculate as to what was intended.

I’ve not mentioned Marion Cotillard yet. She’s luminous, just as she always is. But what’s interesting is how her character Adriana has functionally a very similar role to the one which appeared in Inception. In that film, she was the catalyst for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb to break free from his dream world (aurally aided by La Vie En Rose sung by Edith Piaf who she played in the biopic of the same name). In Midnight in Paris, Adriana’s shift backwards to the Belle Epoque is what drives Gil to realise that the 1920s nostalgia trip he’s on might seem more exciting than 2010, but that actually what he should be doing is trying to make his modern life as satisfying by doing the things which make him happy. Whatever works, if you will.

Plus the layers of time travel suggest the layers of dreams in Inception. Obviously I’ve considered which period I’d like to travel back to and for a long while I wondered if I shouldn’t have been born in the 60s. But I also realised that I’m living at just the right moment. Having been born in the 70s, I’ve been able to watch the information age from its earliest moments in the 80s, through the development of the web, to that connection becoming hand held to everyone having access and being just old enough to keep in touch and be interested. If I’d been nearly forty-eight right now, that might not necessarily be the case. Plus I’d have to be fifty-eight now born in the 50s I’d properly enjoyed the 60s. Ack.

Time travel for me would be a tool. I wouldn’t want to live in the Elizabethen/Jacobian period, especially since I wouldn’t be a nobleman, but it would be useful to visit and grab copies of some of Shakespeare’s lost plays and fill in some of the gaps in his biography once and for all. And that’s what’s also interesting about Midnight in Paris. Gil’s no academic. He’s more interested in these figures as people rather than the ends of academic research. He’s not wanting to publish papers about these people and only really uses what he’s learned to embarrass Paul in the art gallery. Plus he’s never tempted to take advantage of his abilities to make himself rich, “only” to use his knowledge of Adriana’s feelings to seduce her.

Another thematic point of interest is how Gil’s companions treat Paris. Essentially their attitude is that it’s nice but you wouldn’t want to live there. Paul does treat it as an academic challenge. Inez prefers to live in Malibu yet is apparently interested in bettering herself by following Paul’s every word (though that’s possibly simply because she’s attracted to him). Inez’s parents enjoy everything the city has to offer and yet don’t like the French in general, the father portrayed as a right wing tea partier in one of Woody’s most political moments in some time. They’re almost analogue of how some US critics and audiences have been treating this European sojourn.

There's also much said about literature and the process of writing.  This is the film at its densest and perhaps one of the film's pleasures is the inbuilt need to rewatch and concentrate on these details.  Much of what's said, we must presume is taken from the relative writings of the various icons, the implication early on being that they're spouting what Gil's read through the idealised versions of themselves.  But what I draw from it is that if you're going to be a writer, you shouldn't be scared of what you write.  I've always worked from James Blish's question, "Who does it hurt?" Perhaps I shouldn't be to afraid to hurt people if I'm seeking a clearer truth, mostly myself.

What would be interesting to know is how the French reacted to Woody’s treatment of their language. One of the problems with his London films was that he could never quite get the local version of the language to flow quite right, the British actors often making a meal of the text. In Midnight in Paris, the text flows both ways, and there are some scenes played in florid French. Were these translated? There is a pattern in Woody’s European films that the best are about the US experience abroad, with Scoop especially being the best of the London films because of that. Perhaps Woody himself has noticed this. To Rome With Love also has some stories that follow this model.

Let’s cover some of the usual bases. Once again if you close your eyes, you can imagine some of his old repertory acting these lines. Wilson is Woody’s most obvious avatar in years. Rachel McAdams is in the Mia role. Michael Sheen’s essaying the role of Tony Roberts, even to the extent of growing a beard which mimics the one Roberts has in Play It Again, Sam. The music, rather than relying heavily on Parisian sounds, returns to his standards, with Cole Porter even becoming an important character point for Gil. Supporting artist Maurice Sonnenberg returns as “Man at Wine Tasting”, his seventh appearance in a Woody Allen film, though other than Bates he seems to be the only returning cast member.

Much like his London films, Woody’s cast some very well known local actors in tiny roles. Well, ok not Carla Bruni, who’s pretty good as the Museum Assistant (her only acting credit) and worked well in building some publicity during filming. But there’s Audrey Fleurot from Spiral as a 1920s partygoer, Gad Elmaleh as the PI, Olivier Rabourdin as Gaughan and if you glance through most of the casting on the IMDb you’ll find actors with massive long lists of screen credits in tiny roles. Like Mark Gattis in Match Point, they’re clearly just happy to have a Woody Allen film on their list of credits and a French person watching this will probably have same reaction we do to seeing Alexander Armstrong in the back of shot.

Crew wise, Darius Khondji returns as cinematographer from Anything Else and in the gap has amassed a pretty eclectic CV which includes Chéri, Funny Games U.S., My Blueberry Nights, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, The Interpreter and Wimbledon. Alisa Lepselter’s back as his editor which she’s done since Sweet and Lowdown, though interestingly she’s not credited on To Rome With Love. Financing continues the trend of independence, with some money interestingly dropping in from what looks like Catalan government’s cultural department. It’s distributed by Warner Bros in the UK too which is a forming trend, as is their under releasing of a lot of films in high definition format.

Interestingly, for most territories, Woody’s involvement is front and centre. In the UK, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger’s silhouette poster with the Windsor font was replaced with something far more generic and the director’s name didn’t appear anywhere but in the credits at the bottom. This time, Windsor’s back, we’re told, at that it’s written and directed by Woody Allen pretty prominently and the mood, Owen Wilson walking against Paris with weirdly a Van Gogh sky feels very “high brow” and particular even if a bit pecular since he’s one of the few painters who isn’t even mentioned in the film.

Midnight In Paris is now, I think, the highest grossing of his films in the US.  The film was famously released with his usual minimum distribution, but word of mouth grew and the film was effectively rereleased on nearly a thousand cinemas.  For whatever reason, the film managed to break through the usual prejudices and barriers, perhaps partially on the strength of Owen Wilson's performances, his best outside of a Wes Anderson piece, but mostly because it's so damn good.  It's done well enough that Woody's Untitled Project for this year was shot in California.  It’s once again possible for a distributor to make Woody’s participation a benefit. Good.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
The James Monroe (26)

Art  Before the Biennial, I wonder how many of us knew there were two gastropubs in town called Monro.  Certainly during the Biennial, when I’ve mentioned The James Monro on Tithebarne Street, some people have assumed I’ve meant the The Monro on Duke Street and described their love of the Markus Kahre piece.  But no, there are two and if you show the Biennial booklet at either for the duration of the festival you can save a £5 when you spend £25 or more (T&C’s apply).  What is a surprise is that The James Monro is also hosting a Biennial artwork, something that goes unmentioned in the booklet even on The Monro Group’s own advertising.

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The above establishing photo inadvertently contravenes one of this project’s rules of not including any artwork, because it’s attached to the windows.  Jacob Kolding's Perspectives is a set of fifteen window vinyls, each 45x126 cm as indicated by separate informational window vinyl.  They’re spread across all of the windows of The James Monro, attached to the outside across the existing glass engravings.  In collage they depict elements of what looks like governmental literature, cut along various edges and mixed and matched so that none of it is entirely readable from either inside or outside the building.

Kolding is interested in the distribution of culture and as the Biennial’s website says: "is also influenced by city life and pop-cultural sources such as music, football and underground cultural movements. The resulting mix of images is collaged and reconfigured by the artist into posters, maquettes or large billboards. His references are re-worked to cause a shift in meaning and a challenge to how the history of each may be understood in relation to the other."

This is artwork mimicking the elements of advertising, spreading the artist’s ideas and techniques into various spaces, reflecting marketing and cultural imagery back on itself.  These vinyls are a version of a piece that stretches from floor to ceiling at The Bluecoat and available as a poster to take away.  Does our attitude to art change depending upon the setting.  Do we treat it as less ephemeral if it's in a gallery setting than adhered to the windows of a restaurant?  Is it about expectation?

Richard Osman on poor game shows.

TV TV gameshow Pointless has been slightly ruined across series because rather than simply plucking pointless answers from contestant's brains, a general knowledge element has been introduced and although this adds soome strategy, as in "Which of these correct answers will have the lowest number?", it means there's less of the cherishably mad randomness which also marked Family Fortunes.

Nevertheless it remains watchable thanks to the central relationship between Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, who now and then are clearly showing signs of Dunkirk spirit as they're forced to be chipper during what must be the tenth episode recorded that day, Armstrong almost always managing to sound sincere when he commiserates losers by saying how wonderful it was to have them there.

In today's The Guardian, Richard Osman lists some of the gameshow misses. You can tell he really wanted to let rip on Don't Scare The Hare, but for some reason he's not written a full entry about that. Instead he's admitted to one of his own failures:
"24 Hour Quiz was a shortlived ITV teatime show wherein I attempted to marry the reality fireworks of Big Brother with the high-octane jeopardy of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. What I actually did was marry the mind-numbing tedium of a second-rate reality show, with the plodding boredom of a sub-standard pub quiz. Presented by Barry from EastEnders."
Amazingly, the article's already already attracted nearly three hundred comments. People really hate gameshows. I wish Chain Letters would be revived.

The Book Of The Still.

Books Among The Book of the Still’s many random pleasures is a passage towards the beginning with cleanly defines Anji’s character. She’s pondering nostalgically what her life was like before meeting the Doctor, of buying some food on the way home, cooking for her boyfriend Dave, then the two of them taking a walk through London until sun-up. It’s a moment filled with longing and metropolitan romance and might just be one of my favourite bits of writing across all of these Eighth Doctor novels, because the writer, Paul Ebbs captures exactly what also makes the new series so pleasurable. That we’re having adventures with very realistic, very human beings rather than ciphers whose characterisation begins and ends with their costume.

Which is odd considering the mayhem that surrounds it. The Book of the Still is one of the most sought after volumes in the universe. Because of it's tangential qualities, any time travellers in possession of the book who write their name and co-ordinates on its pages are instantly rescued, which is fine if you’re the kind of time traveller who spends much of their time observing, but of no use if you’re the member of a race like The Unnoticed who’d prefer to be forgotten and will go to the length of destroying whole planets so that they can go about their business of existing, well, unnoticed. The book has found itself sitting within one of the most secure spaces on Lebenswelt and everyone is desperate to get their hands on it.

Narratively speaking we’re into the experimental territory that defines most of this series of novels. Much of the first hundred odd pages demand that the viewer pay attention as our regulars, especially the Doctor act pretty strangely, motivations go unexplained and we’re never entirely sure in which direction the story is flowing. There’s a lot of trust put in the reader by Ebbs and his co-author Richard Jones (mentioned inside but not on the cover) as the Doctor and his pals become separated and find themselves imprisoned, kidnapped and drugged and sometimes all three. In places, due to the machinations of a kind of escort agency, the characters even slip into alternative personalities in dream worlds in passages with a definite tinge of the Paul Magrs.

Mostly it comes across, as so much of the Eighth Doctor era does, like an ur-text for the revived television series, especially Moffat’s latter years which now look like a misremembered synopsis for Ebbs’s book. Here be spoilers: the Doctor’s temporary companion while his usuals are off getting themselves into danger is Rhian, an expert in non-linear anthropology; part of the plot hinges on a pre-destination paradox created because of a message left the Book of the Still which might as well be multi-user edition of River Song’s diary; The Unnoticed, three metre tall eviscerations in trench coats are essentially The Silents with more destructive tendencies, but the same need to keep themselves to themselves; the Doctor even flies a box into the Sun.

But in the middle of it all, Ebbs exemplifies how, despite the massive tonal and quality changes between books, we’re happy to read along now because we simply enjoy the company of the regulars. Fitz in particular, even though he’s not in control of his own faculties throughout much of the story, is still massively entertaining as he attempts to navigate having a whole bunch of new memories and finding himself inconsolably in love with a mysterious woman, Carmodi, who’s effectively stolen him and the book for reasons she can’t control herself. The Doctor too is given some meaty material, real drama as he finds himself trapped in the web of time unsure, because of his amnesia, if he can break free. Tears are shed.

Some project notes: also rather like the Moffat series, there’s an increasing interest in time travel. Almost every novel now has some kind of time element either because of some amateur time machine or at the very least a time traveller that isn’t the Doctor has wandered through. Clearly this is supposed to be running thread, perhaps the idea being that the Whoniverse as an entity is seeking something to replace the hole left by Gallifrey, or simply that without the Time Lords doing their job, the ability to take advantage of the web of time has become easier. It could be loss of one of the Doctor’s hearts that is the primary factor in this. It’s exciting and intriguing in a way that also has been nuWho’s stock in trade to great effect and I'm loving it.

Shakespeare joins AT&T's security team.

Well, this is one way to deal with corporate training. Here's "The Bardster" in love. Here are the rest.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Camp and Furnace (25)

Food  The Camp and Furnace is one of the hubs of the Biennial 2012’s weekend activities, especially the family programme.  It’s also the first year when this building hasn’t featured an exhibition, AFoundation having inhabited its shell for much of the past decade before its closure.  I invigilated here in 2006.  In 2010 it was the site of Sachiko Abe’s Cut Paper performance/installation piece.  Earlier this year it hosted the launch party for Biennial partner The Double Negative.  I mention these to demonstrate how the cities and spaces change but how the memories remain.

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On entering Camp and Furnace and after taking care of some private business, I realised this was the perfect moment and with its many corner, cushions and wood fires, the perfect place to have a break from, well, everything.  This impression only deepened when I glanced along the bar and saw this sign:

I did ask the barperson if they had any other cakes.  She introduced me to some flapjacks sitting on the other end of the bar, but said that the cheesecake looked gorgeous.  I ordered the cheesecake and went and sat in a corner amid the cushions and after reading my book for a bit the food arrived.

No, I didn’t photograph it.  Because it didn’t occur to me at the time, I expect because on these Biennial visits I’m out of the habit of photographing the artistic endeavours themselves and if this cheesecake was anything it was visually artistic, a creamy concoction spread across a biscuit base which was crunchy without being hard or granular.

Most of this Biennial, most art, is about servicing only four of the senses.  Always sight.  Perhaps hearing.  Sometimes, there’s touch.  Sometimes, even, smell.  It’s very rarely taste.  And although art is all about intent, art only becomes art if the creator says it is, even if they’re wrong.  This cheesecake is art.

When Greek physician Aegimus wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes he must have had something like this cheesecake in mind.  With each bite I rolled its nuttiness around in my mouth, its cold creaminess populating the corners of my cheeks.  Afterwards, I ran my tongue across my teeth and tasebuds, preparing them for the next sensory onslaught.

More hyperbole:  when the empty plate came it was with a feeling of loss and regret.  Last week, I bought some Muller cheesecakes in the supermarket.  I thought they were nice, as it goes.  But I now know they’re a blasphemy in the face of what a cheesecake can and should taste like, what can be achieved.

As I left I took my plate and glass back to the bar and thanked the barperson and took the photo above as a reminder.  Sometimes restaurants can work too hard for our favour.  Sometimes all that’s required is a lovely slice of cheese cake.  I’ll be back.  I want to know what else is on the menu.

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, issue #6.

Comics I really have to stop reading this on buses. On page ten, the Doctor realises why he’s not been on top of exactly what the Cyberman had been up to, a point which hitherto seemed to be as the result of poor characterisation. He says, “They may well be right about that. They’ve masked their steps so well that I have been all along a step behind them.” “THAT’S NOT EVEN ENGLISH.” I peeled in frustration which provoked the three rows of passengers in front of me to turn around and glare. I spent the rest of the journey with the nagging sensation that they thought I was being racist.

But I wasn’t. That isn’t English. It’s Jedi. If Qui-Gon Jinn or Yoda had said that line it would have seemed perfectly reasonable. But not the Doctor. The Time Lords might have equivalence in the Whoniverse (just as the Q have in the Trekverse), but at least their sentences have a recognisable structure. The Doctor goes on to say, “… and the Cybermen with the full resources of the Borg collective may well be insurmountable.” Which is presumably missing a comma or two. But I still could never imagine Matt Smith being saddled with all those concurrent syllables.

It’s probably unfair to dedicate two paragraphs to a single line of dialogue in twenty odd pages of them, but it was also equally unfair to take what should have been an amazing idea and so consistently fail to do it any justice. We’re at issue six now and finally some plot elements are coming the fore, but the execution’s so ham-fisted in places it makes Torchwood’s Miracle Day look like The Wire, an analogy which I’ll admit makes little to no comparative sense, but after five previous reviews which roughly say the same thing, I’m running out of ideas.

To be fair, this issue opens with a fair amount of intensity. The collective Enterprise and TARDIS crews sneakily meet a Borg faction on some barren planetoid and for the next eight pages, the two groups work through their trust issues. The thrust is that the Cybermen have taken control of the collective and these breakaways are making contact with the humans because they have ingenuity on their side, or some such. The impression seems to be that the Borg will help the humans because if the Cybermen take over there’ll be nothing left to assimilate.

Amy and Rory have no reason to be there. The Doctor mainly snipes from the sidelines apart from the bizarre moment when Riker, realising that one of the Borg used to be a friend and Captain of a Starship loses his tempter and does some pointing, which despite the fact this is a friend and Captain of a Starship seems a bit out of character. Given the tenseness of the negotiations, in the television series he’s more likely to keep it to himself then moan to Troi about it in that episode’s subplot. Worf also has a temper tantrum, but that seems entirely in character.

They beam back up to the ship and in a four page scene in which it seems as though they’ve left Amy and Rory on the planet because they don’t even appear in their usual spot on the fringes of a frame, the Borg ambassador finally explains the reasons for their schism with the Cybermen and once again we’re thrust into another hallmark of this series, the tell not show. There are a couple of illustrative frames, but there’s nothing here which wouldn’t have been more interestingly demonstrated by one of the characters (Rory) being captured and watching it happen from the inside.

There isn’t much if anything in here which hasn’t already appeared in the deductive exposition scene between the Doctor and Guinan in the previous issues. What is new is that they agree a strategy to fight the Cybermen by redeveloping the Enterprise’s weapons and shields to fight their co-opted Borg technology. Oh and the Doctor suggesting that one way to combat the Cybermen is their vulnerability to gold. Problem. In the Cybermen in the revived television series, the ones being portrayed in this comic don’t have a vulnerability to gold.

Well, ok, ish. The Cybermen in the alternative universe don’t. It’s been developed out of them by their designer Lumic. Now, it’s possible the writers have decided to ignore that and produce their own mythology, on the assumption that these aren’t the same ones, despite their universe jumping tendencies but as is the hallmark of this series that the Who mythology side of things never quite feels right so I wouldn’t be too surprised if they’ve simply assumed that the new Cybermen are just as vulnerable as the old kind despite them not having the open breastplate of certain doom.

Either way, the gold thing becomes a major story point and for another four pages we're transported back to Naia VII which was the scene of the most boring Star Trek: The Next Generation story which isn’t Imaginary Friend way back in issue two, where as luck would have it there's an abundance of the stuff, far more than the Enterprise’s replicators are capable of producing. Apparently. We’re back into conversations about embargos and a slightly bizarre two frames which are all about how quickly the Dai-Ais will turn up.

That whole procedure takes a page. There’s no particular reason why Seelos, the fish man couldn’t have been there when the crew arrive and it would certainly have meant the moment when they spring the “we want all your gold” strategy on them would have happened soon. Perhaps there’s an element of conscious pacing at play here, but it just feels as though each of these pages could have been more usefully served giving Amy and Rory or anyone else on the ship something to do like having been captured to create a sense of jeopardy.

The Doctor does finally get some big speeches and to be fair to the writers they do at least sound Doctorish as he utilises some reverse psychology to engineer a planet’s financial collapse. There doesn’t appear to be much reason for this, however. There have to be other planets in the alpha quadrant with tons of gold, their equivalent of Volga. But then it’s not entirely clarified as to why the Enterprise can’t itself produce all of this gold. I seem to remember my copy of the old Okuda technical manual suggesting that the ship has unlimited resources in that way.

Then, abruptly we’re into the next bit of story in which the Doctor and co finally get around to doing some physical time travelling and we’re into the most enjoyable part of the book, with the Time Lord and his pals in the console room on their way somewhere. Amy and Rory have whole lines of dialogue offering surprise that he didn’t invite their new allies along and even lied about the reason being that they’re crossing their own time streams, which he explains in a bit of foreshadowing was so that he could save them from having to witness a tragedy again.

For the first time in ages they all sound like their televisual counterparts and the story has some forward motion. We’re reading a Doctor Who story again and again we’re faced with seeing what might have been if the writers had decided to stick to one narrative agent. I’ll repeat this again: the clever approach to this crossover would have been for it all to have been told from the Doctor’s POV, with him and his companions travelling about the Trekverse. I’m biased but there are just too many characters dashing around here for the writers to cope with.

They land on a Borg ship. They explore. The influence is the investigatory scenes in Trek’s Q Who, the disinterested Borg when their Enterprise crew first met their nemesis and actually did something altruistic (ie, Doctorish) in revealing their existence. The reader’s in the classic position of his companions of not knowing how to cope with the surroundings and well, there’s contentment from this reader, even if there’s also a nagging sense that we’re watching scenes which should have happened months ago, perhaps even the first month which had, what is still up until now, that entirely pointless Doctor Who story.

But the problem is there’s no sense of mystery as to what the Doctor’s doing their because it was explained earlier in the issue and repeated by Riker before he took off. We should be surprised when we realise the Doctor’s landing in the midst of Wolf 359, but instead the tension is in him being discovered by Locutus which then makes a nonsense of earlier scenes because it was established in Best of Both Worlds that Picard remembers everything of when he was the leader of the Borg, every murderous decision. It’s why he needs the episode Family to get over it.

All of which explains what my nagging problem with the whole series has been, apart from the whole series. It’s that the writers feel as though they need to explain everything. Issues spent introducing formats, pages full of repeated exposition and plans made and explained. In films and television, especially in Doctor Who, such plans are always best left undescribed at least in methodology terms, to unfold gradually, the viewer/reader forever intrigued as to how our heroes will pull off, whatever it is they’re pulling off. Not here. These writers have decided that tension dissipation is the key.

One final word on the artwork, which once again is a mix of useful portraits and impressionistic splodges and marionettes which look nothing like they’re supposed to. When Riker’s angry he turns into Noel Edmunds. Amy mostly looks like Dr Crusher. There’s a bizarre frame on the Borg ship when the Doctor’s chin becomes longer than Dick Spanner, P.I. from Channel 4’s old magazine show Network 7 and has much the same skin colour (everything’s grey on the Borg ship). The cover for the next issue does look exciting though. The TARDIS spinning through a space battle. Ooh.

"Why is it that people who can't take advice always insist on giving it?"

Skyfall premiere by The British Monarchy
Skyfall premiere, a photo by The British Monarchy on Flickr.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Lime Street Station (24)

Art On entering Lime Street Station, I approached a Network Rail employee and asked him where the Biennial “stuff” was. Having been through the station a couple of times since the 15 September (which is ok under my secret public art rule) I’d failed to notice the Jiri Kovanda piece which was mentioned under Cunard Building in the booklet.

He explained that it was on the wall adjacent to the clock above WH Smiths. Then he suggested I give feedback to the Biennial (at this point I presume you’re sick of me) because the other piece, “something to do with people kissing” hasn’t been there, and they’ve been watching out for it from dawn until dusk and “loads of people have asked”.

Glancing at the booklet, I think I see what the problem is. The “Kissing Through Glass” piece is at the Cunard Building. The Lime Street piece is listed underneath with its location printed next to it in brackets and if you weren’t paying attention you could assume they were both in the station, as many people evidently have.

*     *     *     *     *

Jiri Kovanda's piece provokes. It provokes me to pondered when the last time someone who isn’t a relative said “I Love You” to me. Never, I think. Not in a romantic way, not in the Hugh Grant at the Southbank or Billy Crystal at a New Year’s Eve party way. Or even in passing. Never.

That’s quite an admission, I’m sure. Probably not what you were expecting to read and not what I was expecting to type here. But after looking at Kovanda’s piece, “I Love You”, two giant piece of plastic sheeting with the words “I Love You” on them in English and Czech, I couldn’t help thinking back. No, never been said.

There might have been one occasion when it was said platonically, I think, in a sisterly way, not that I have a sister, but I think you know what I mean. I expect there are some life experiences some people are not meant to have, or at least not meant to have early in their lives. For me, pushing thirty-eight, this is one of mine.

The booklet text suggests it's meant to offer “psychological comfort and emotional shelter for the viewer, unconditionally”. You might argue that in my case, given what you’ve just read, the opposite is true, that it’s just been a reminder of what I haven’t had and that there’s not much comfort in that.

But here’s something that did happen.

At the bottom of each of the sheets is the artist’s name and a set of numbers with a plus sign in front of them. I quickly deduced this was a phone number, each digit about a foot tall.

I phoned it.

Now, in my defence of the following, I assumed that since it was one of the most public places in Liverpool it would be a recorded message, an extension of the work into a more private setting. At first, because of the structure, I even thought it was a London landline, until I realised the plus sign meant an international dialing code.

First time, it rang with no answer, and with a long drawn out ringtone I didn’t recognise. The second time, someone picked up. The following paraphrases a bit.

“Hello.” They said.
Oh, um. I thought.  Um.
“Oh, hello.” I said.
“Hello.” They repeated.
I didn’t know quite what to say, so I asked the most obvious question:
“Is that Jiri Kovanda?”
“Yes.” They said.
Oh, um, urr. I thought.
“Oh, um, urr.” I said.
There was a pause. I was speaking to the artist. What could I possibly …
“Hello! I’m standing in Lime Street Station in front of your art piece.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I’m standing in Lime Street Station in front of a sign with your name and telephone number on it which says I love you. I just wanted to say that I love you too.” I shouted. I may have gesticulated.
“I’m sorry” he said, “My English is …”
“Oh. Right, um.” I continued, I was in the moment. “That is Jiri Kovanda?”
“I’m in Liverpool. I’m standing in front of your …”
“Oh, yes, hahahaha.” He laughed.
“Yes! How are you?”
”I’m ok. I’m in Madrid installing an new installation.”
“Excellent.” I was babbling a bit by this point. I may have told him I loved him again.
Then I asked:
”Have many people have phoned you?”
“I’m sorry, I …” He repeated that he didn’t understand me. Which was probably for the best.
“Oh, ok. Well you take care. Bye.”  I said abruptly.
“Bye.” He said.

Was I really speaking to the artist? I don’t know. It does seem strange that if he is Jiri Kovanda, that what must be his mobile phone number is up in such a public place.  Perhaps its his office number.  I wonder if anyone else has phoned him? I wonder if it was supposed to be part of the work? I’m presuming not on both counts.

I also expect he’d become a bit pissed off if we all phoned him on mass which is why I’m not printing his phone number here. But honestly I thought it was either going to be fake telephone number or a link to a recorded message. I didn’t think I’d end up harassing the gentleman. If you’re reading this and know Kovanda, do apologise for me. Please.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
The Kazimier (23)

Art Like Liverpool Cathedral, The Kazimier was utilised by the Biennial for a single event, and perhaps only someone with a collector mentality would understand why I’d still seek it out knowing that fact. Perhaps. As you can see there isn’t a sign on the front, which because of the ambiguousness of the red spot on the Biennial’s map meant I walked around the block twice looking for it, eventually asking for directions at the Liverpool Academy of Arts and the Cream office next door, or at least the intercom. There it is hidden behind Jorge Pardo’s Penelope sculpture.

* * * * *

The club’s website has details of what I missed. Simon Munnery (also known by his stage names of Alan Parker: Urban Warrior and The League Against Tedium) devised new material especially for the Biennial event that was run in conjunction with the Liverpool Comedy Festival. My favourite fact about Munnery is that early in his career he wrote computer games for 8-bit computers, especially the VIC-20, ZX81 and the Spectrum. I also love that when Stewart Lee put that in one of his books, some readers thought that was one of his lies or exaggerations.

The other performer that night was Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams, who the booklet says told the story of “Emlyn from North Wales who visits Liverpool to research a branch of his family tree and how things turn nasty for him at the microfiche machine. We will hear about the cousins who hold their breath whilst travelling through the Mersey tunnels, the melancholy Ellen and a thuggish man who insists on being called ‘Half Uncle’.” He’s a performance artist whose stage identities include the Grim Reaper, a windswept Welsh bard, a Lithuanian woodsman and a rubber dinghy (source).

Lord knows what I would have made of this. I’ve been considering lately, or at least for the purposes of filling a few paragraphs I have, what it is I find funny. I recently watched the film Superbad and sat stony-faced throughout, yet some people think it’s the funniest film of that year, even that decade. I laughed right through Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress and wanted to be Greta Gerwig’s character by the end even though I’m a boy. You could look at that and think that I’ve developed a more sophisticated sense of humour.

But that also makes me sound smug and I don’t think I am, at least not in that way. I suppose I like wordplay, situational wordplay. With slapstick I tend to laugh less at the pratfall than the reactions. But a sense of reality also seems to be important. If someone’s telling a humorous story, it needs a grain of truth to it. I love David Sedaris’s biographical anecdotes. I can’t stand David Sedaris’s allegorical animals. I like self-deprecating humour and embarrassment but I’m less comfortable if it’s happening to fictional characters.

Which is inconsistent, but I’m an inconsistent person. I’ve seen all of Friends but not Frasier. Some drama series can be funnier than sitcoms, The West Wing, The Wire even Fringe when Walter Bishop is himself at his most inconsistent. I like the surprise switch between comedy and tragedy, and I like subversive humour so long as, apparently it doesn’t tip over into sick. But I think the Marvin moment in Pulp Fiction is hilarious so that doesn’t make sense either. So really, I’m not sure which way my sense of humour compass is pointing.

Updated! 14/11/2013 Disappearing into the depths of Vimeo, I've found that Liverpool Biennial have uploaded a video of the gig. Here it is.

Simon Munnery & Bedwyr Williams from Liverpool Biennial on Vimeo.

Analogue Switch-Off.

TV Another night, another televisual milestone. All of the talk about the end of CEEFAX has been due to the final area in the digital switch over, Northern Ireland, having their analogue signal turned off, the last geographical area to have their analogue signal turned off.

Unlike most regions, they really went to town with the coverage with old continuity clocks:

There was also a tribute to the past sixty years of television in Northern Ireland simulcast on the BBC and UTV (available for the rest of us to watch here via the iplayer) which was introduced like this:

"Eamonn! Eamonn!"

The final moment was given suitably epic treatment:

Ooh look at that new stained glass ident. Look at the colours. Ooh.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Mitchell's Bakery (22)

Art Mitchell’s Bakery, now Homebaked, is very easy to find, especially if you’ve seen the cake version at the Museum of Liverpool which is amazingly accurate considering it’s made of icing. Just as Carl’s voice-over on that exhibit indicated, it’s within walking distance of Liverpool Football Club, indeed it’s possible to see the stadium from inside the shop. After glancing through the explanatory display in the windows, I tried the door which I entirely failed to open but luckily someone was on-hand inside to let me in and I somehow managed to inadvertently ingratiate myself by asking if there was coffee available which I thought was for sale but turned out to be for something else entirely.

This unexpected guest (sorry) was made entirely welcome by the inhabitants, who explained their motives for being there, and everything I’d need to know about the project. The interior is now completely different to the photograph on the wall at the Museum of Liverpool. That suggests something akin to an independent bakers in the style of a chain like Greggs. Blue paint has been stripped from the walls to reveal the original white tiling and the deco counters have temporarily been replaced with rough wooden tables and chests of drawers giving it a country bakery feel or a hipster coffee shop. It’s cosy, welcoming.

The bakery was opening this morning because The Reader organisation, a group which seeks to gather people together to enjoy literature, were having their meeting. I know them well. I have the first issue of their journal around here somewhere having been handed it during a poetry course at the continuing education school at Liverpool University. The idea is that people can develop their confidence by reading to the group their favourite passages and discuss them, to enjoy literature and indeed promote literature as not being as intimidating as it sometimes appears. As a Shakespeare fan, this is something I can entirely endorse.

This is just the sort of initiative the Homebaked hopes will be at the centre of its operation going forward. The rooms at the back of the ground floor will hopefully be converted so that groups like this can have meetings there, attempt to re-ignite the sense of community which could dwindle further as the remodelling of the area proceeds. The bakery has already been the site of the planning consultations on what the ultimate use of the building will be, how the building and the connected terrace will be best utilised. At time of visiting all of the plans are pretty much set.

The ground floor will mostly continue to be a bakery. According to their website the building will “house a production and training kitchen, a traditional bakery shop front, a couple of tables to sit and have a coffee with your cake, and a hatch to serve food straight onto the street on match days.” There are already taster days, but the process it rightly proceeding slowly. They hope to open properly next year but will have the odd trial day here and there so that they can get the operation just right. But the multi-purpose use is clever. It means at least as a business, the bakery already has a potentially large audience.

The rest of the building will be turned into a flats for young people transitioning into their own homes, somewhere to live if they’re not getting on with their parents, and a professional whose work may be connected to the project in some way. The interiors of the other houses in the terrace will be remodelled to fit with the specific needs of various society groups, pensioners on the ground floor, for example. The internal architecture of the building reminds me of the student houses I’ve lived in and the change in use is a huge undertaking. But the right amount of thought has gone into the choices being made and again, nothing is being rushed into.

As it stands all of the aspects of the old bakery are still being stored in one room or other and Kealey, the volunteer who was patient enough to help explain all this to me, says that nothing is being wasted. The original counters will be cleaned and put back into use. The glass sign that hung in the window will be turned into a coffee table. There are still dozens of the original baking tins and although they’re too far gone for their original purpose, they’re to be turned into planters for a garden round the back and donated to other groups in the community. They might even be built into an entirely new structure.

All of which means that when the bakery opens, I’ll be back. As I was leaving I made sure I’d signed up to the relevant mailing lists, became a supporter. The Homebaked Community Bakery, which is what the site is going to become has a clear, practical plan with, and although I hate the phrase I’m going to use it anyway because it fits so well, “blue sky thinking”. When asked the question “What does living well mean to you?” on the 2up2down website, Kealey says “Living well is being happy and having your family and friends around you and being safe and secure in the area that you live in. It’s that simple.” I couldn’t agree more.

* * * * *

But how does Mitchell’s Bakery fit within the structure of the Biennial? Apparently it’s been one of the most popular aspects of the festival with the weekend Anfield Home tours which end there having to increase their frequency due to over-subscription and that’s presumably because it's of interest to a wide spectrum of people, both Biennial tourists and local residents from all over the city (and those of us who sit within the central slice of that venn diagram). Certainly if I wasn’t working at the weekend I would have taken the tour too. As I mentioned to the people I met, coming from South Liverpool, the north of the city is like unknown territory.

It’s also worth noting that this is not an unusual project for Jeanne Van Heeswijk, whose work tends to be about transforming social spaces and increasing community involvement. The Blue House (Het Blauwe Huis) in IJburg, Amsterdam invites artists from throughout the world to visit and interact with the local community in a “housing association for the mind”. Her original idea was apparently to simply create a temporary installation of some kind but she decided that rather than simply creating discussion, something practical and physical needed to be achieved with the help of core participants from the area.

In other words, if this is art, it's art as co-operative community project. Like Suzanne Lacy’s happenings, it’s about the engagement of ideas and participation rather than simply creating an object that can simply be looked at before the visitor moves on to the next thing. Like the Everton Park project and the work enunciated by Hsieh Ying-Chun at Exchange Flags, it’s about revealing to those communities that they needn’t accept the control which being passed down to them through local governance or natural disaster or both. They can take their own control of their lives. Few artworks at this Biennial are as thematically rich.

Yet what’s most impressive is the sense of hope. Living in this country at this time, there’s not a lot of hope around. I don’t feel like a very hopeful person. But sitting around that table this morning, listening to everything which is planned for that building and its adjoining properties and, all being well, how many people could potentially be touched by what they’re doing, from the young people given respite in the flats or trained in the bakery right down to the football supporters who’ll have something tasty to eat on match day, I actually felt very hopeful for the first time in ages. The coffee was nice too.

Mutya Keisha Siobhan interviewed on camera.

Music  The Sugababes have given what I think is their first on camera interview since returning, to Radio One's Newsbeat at the Q Awards.

Sorry, I mean Mutya Keisha Siobhan, of course. Three things:

(1)  The dynamic is the same as it ever was.  Keisha's the spokesperson even when Mutya, who for most of the interview standing in the middle nodding, is asked a direct question.

(2)  When Keisha talks about their first line-up being cut short, Siobhan says, "My fault."  Was it?  That seems a bit strange.  Diplomatic.

(3)  When's the album coming out?

Trading Futures.

Books This year my birthday money, assuming I’m lucky enough to receive some and assuming I’m not sent a review copy (!), will be purchasing the third(ish) edition of next best thing I have to The Bible which isn’t Shakespeare’s First Folio, Lance Parkin’s seminal Doctor Who chronology, Ahistory. While I await that momentous day and discovering exactly where he and his co-writer Lars Pearson have decided to put Planet of the Dead, I’ve been enjoying his 2002 pseudo-Bond adventure Trading Futures. Well, mostly enjoying.

In about 2016 (it’s not mentioned in the novel but Ahistory makes an educated guess) (which it would), two of the Earth’s main superpowers, the US and the now united Eurozone covertly battle to gain control of time technology from Baskerville, a global millionaire who also purports to be from ten thousand years in the future. Meanwhile an alien ship drops into orbit also seeking the secrets of time travel and with each page, the Doctor’s own plan, to make sure the technology is nullified before it can do much damage, becomes increasingly complex.

We’re in cross-genre territory but Parkin doesn’t just simply produce a novelisation of a Bond film. Those elements are in there, the global locations, massive stunts and even an aging Bond figure in Cosgrove, the Deputy Head of Eurozone Secret Service, whose described as being ruggedly, bearded and has a Scottish accent. Even Anji’s transformed into a faux-Bond girl spending part of the pagination in her bikini. Perhaps she’s supposed to be one of the silhouettes on the cover. The one on the left?

But there’s also a heavy dose of Clancy-like geopolitical shenanigans, with regimes collapsing and heads of state becoming directly involved in affairs. Delta Force Captain Mather from Father Time returns and this time he’s the US President and from what I can gather supposedly played by Morgan Freeman (as per Deep Impact). It’s from the Clancy genes that we get the cynicism of war, that patriotism only stretches as far as its capable of producing financial opportunities (which is thematically similar to Anachrophobia).

And for the most part it’s great fun. Parkin splits the regulars up for much of the duration with Anji in arguably the most prominent role ascertaining Baskerville's secrets whilst simultaneously not getting killed, Fitz on the alien space craft pretending to be the Doctor badly and the real Doctor in the Bond role, dashing about the world with an Asian CIA agent ala Tomorrow Never Dies, blowing up boats, being thrown out of office windows and in one especially kick ass move deflecting rifle bullets with a pistol. Yes, he has a gun. But it’s about intent.

Which is somewhat the problem. As we’ve seen recently, however flexible its format, Doctor Who doesn’t always sit well when crossed with some genres and amid all this, some of the solutions to problems are ambiguous at best with Life’s Champion and his companions not necessarily averse to letting humanity or certain aspects of it destroy itself if required. It’s not quite as direct as A Town Called Mercy, but if you’re not in the right mind for it … well … I’ll be specific in the next paragraph, which you might want to skip if you want to keep yourself entirely spoiler free.

As happens in a Bond film, there’s a lot of death played for laughs in here. Fitz’s solution to the alien threat, however murderous they might have been, is in stark contrast to what we’ve become used to, not that he didn’t give them enough chances not to, I suppose (see The Sontaran Strategem). But it’s the final moments when Cosgrove hurls himself off a cliff which are especially problematic. True he has a gun to the Doctor’s head, but the Time Lord throws the device off the cliff knowing he’ll go after it and knowing he’ll die when he does.

Such things are a symptom of cross-sensibilities and to an extent it’s always important to keep in mind that we’re experiencing fictional constructs and authors with ideas of how these fictional constructs behave within a simulacrum. But as with A Town Called Mercy, when they seem to be acting out of character, against the moral code they’ve previously been given, it jars and only really works if, ala Voyage of the Damned, whatever Doctor Who is as a thing, ultimately asserts itself, usually at much the same time as the Doctor himself.

All of which said, it still feels like a Parkin book through and through. The author always creates a character which can only be played by Ian Richardson and on this occasion it’s Baskerville (obviously!). For everything said above, this is still roughly the same Eighth Doctor from The Dying Days, somehow able to battle incredible odds with very little to hand, though the author gives due notice to his new condition, his amnesia, his single heart and not really knowing his own limits. But he’s still pretty superhuman, not the nearly decrepit figure of the previous few books.

There’s also the same interest in period detail as Father Time, though unlike that novel, he’s largely making up those details for himself. The funniest example of that is his conception of youth culture in which teenagers all conform: wear suits, work to get good grades and presumably go to bed a reasonable hour because they’ve realised that it’s the best way to unnerve their parents, Anji’s generation, who did none of those things. Given the right set of circumstances, there’s nothing to say that won’t come to pass. It’d certainly unnerve me.

Some of Parkin’s predictions are amazingly prescient. At one point Fitz utilises a “Pad” which offers Siri-like voice activated information (albeit with a more robust AI). The continuing unrest in the middle east, particularly in Libya (a few years late, but still) and of course a black US president which god willing should still be the case in 2016. There’s even a single global monetary transaction system, which given movements within the current Eurozone and the US doesn’t sound too beyond the bounds of possibility.

Just as you’d imagine, the author’s very conscious of his Whoniverse references. Learham is the same British PM as Justin Richards’s Time of the Daleks. The CIA’s Control from the first BBC past Doctors novel Devil Goblins from Neptune appears. It’s also not entirely unconnected with the 1960s tv story The Enemy of the World which is set a year later. He even manages to prefigure one of the alien races in nuWho, the Onihr having a rhino shaped head, Judoon in looks essentially if not attitude (unless they’re a different genus of the same species) (or whatever).

Contemporary reviews for Trading Futures were mixed. I remember Doctor Who Magazine being especially damning in its faint praise and the consensus seems to be that it suffered in following the near perfect Anachrophobia, which it does, especially because it (almost) shares some of the same story points. I suppose your enjoyment of the book depends upon your love of the Bond films and although I wouldn’t count myself an enthusiast (it has its shallow, repetitive moments) (yes, I know, that’s an inconsistent attitude) I do at least own the box(ed) set.

 Next . . .

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Liverpool Cathedral (21)

Art Last Biennial when I visited Liverpool Cathedral, it was prepared for some kind of social evening with tables and chairs filling the main section of the floor space, and in a strange coincidence they were out again on Friday with additional candelabras. They somehow have the ability to make a massive space seem intimate.

*     *     *     *     *

Regrets, sigh, oh the regrets.

When I decided not to volunteer, not to attend the private views, to approach the Biennial slowly, some might say lazily over a few months, I’d entirely forgotten that one of its greatest achievements would be on a single night at Liverpool Cathedral and an experience in which you really, really had to be there.

On the opening night, composer Rhys Chatham gathered a hundred guitarists in the cathedral for a performance of his work A Crimson Grail, a three movement volume, experienced by about four hundred public humans and VIPs. Seven Streets has an excellent eyewitness account with tantalising photographs that somehow manages to tread the line between art and music review (assuming they’re mutually exclusive).

I forgot. I did. It wasn’t until I idiotically glanced at Twitter that night and saw someone had uploaded a photo of themselves in the cathedral expectantly waiting for the event to start (smiling!) that I remembered, or at least the fact I was missing it was unconsciously pointed out to me. Too late. So when I trudged up to the Cathedral on Friday, I sort of already knew I was on a fool’s errand.

Firstly I have a question. I wonder how many city visitors will have made the same trek? The Cathedral is marked as a venue in the Biennial booklet just like all of the others on the map. Chatham’s name is listed with the rest of the artists in the back of the booklet. Someone simply visiting venues might not necessarily think to look in the “Weekends” section halfway through and know to look for this missed event.

Secondly, a suggestion (though it’s probably too late now). If the event was recorded, either on video or audio, why not set up a media device in the cathedral showing the performance?  That way visitors can see what they missed, perhaps in the unobtrusive space that housed the Danica Dakic piece in 2010 or somewhere else which might not necessarily require a volunteer invigilating.

It need not be anything spectacular, indeed a photograph and some headphones can be just as effective in giving an idea of the experiences as anyone who's stood on the bridge overlooking the naïve of the Cathedral and listened to the cathedral choir through the headphones can attest.

 The human imagination has an amazing capacity to fill in sensory gaps.

Oh fudge.

The New Yorker endorses Obama.

Politics The New Yorker's endorsement of Obama is about the tragedy of hope in face of blind hatred:
"Barack Obama began his Presidency devoted to the idea of post-partisanship. His rhetoric, starting with his “Red State, Blue State” Convention speech, in 2004, and his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” was imbued with that idea. Just as in his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he had tried to reconcile the disparate pasts of his parents, Obama was determined to bring together warring tribes in Washington and beyond. He extended his hand to everyone from the increasingly radical leadership of the congressional Republicans to the ruling mullahs of the Iranian theocracy. The Republicans, however, showed no greater interest in working with Obama than did the ayatollahs. The Iranian regime went on enriching uranium and crushing its opposition, and the Republicans, led by Dickensian scolds, including the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, committed themselves to a single goal: to engineer the President’s political destruction by defeating his major initiatives. Obama, for his part, did not always prove particularly adept at, or engaged by, the arts of retail persuasion, and his dream of bipartisanship collided with the reality of obstructionism."
I can't find it on my blog, but somewhere in 2008 I said that I thought that no matter what Obama tried, the Republicans would simply try and block as much as they could so that in 2012, at the re-election the candidate could say that he didn't fulfill any of his election promises.  Yes, well, yes, indeed.

The final "Pages from Ceefax".

TV You probably missed it, I know I did, but in the early morning, this morning, television history was made, because between about four and six this morning, BBC Two broadcast the last ever, the final "Pages from Ceefax".

Before proper daytime television, before the internet, in the Eighties, even before we could afford to buy or rent a television with teletext built in, "Pages from Ceefax" was a primary information source, sitting for hours waiting for the pages to scroll around to the sports news or as was sometimes the case then funny pictures and children's stories.

As you might imagine, someone has already uploaded this momentous occasion to YouTube. The epic moment comes at about minute 7:25:

It's nice that BBC Two announcer decided to mark the occasion.  Thanks for being there, Ceefax.  But you won't be forgotten.

Updated!  BBC News Online now has heartfelt a tribute.  Sob.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Victoria Gallery & Museum (20)

Art  This is the first occasion the University of Liverpool’s art venue, Victoria Gallery & Museum has been an official venue of the Liverpool Biennial and a demonstration that for all the spaces which have closed in the past couple of years there are still plenty of excellent places for them to inhabit. Not that it should be seen in any way as a new departure for the gallery which since opening in 2008 has been a venue for plenty of contemporary art exhibitions often inspired by their own collections, but not always. One of the highlights of the art that was in the city on the fringe of the 2010 festival was their retrospective of photographs by Astrid Kirchherr.

* * * * *

For the Biennial, they’ve welcomed Paul Rooney, whose solo exhibition, Here Comes Franz, He Was Afraid includes a new acquisition for the gallery, The Futurist, a twenty-five minute surrealist video piece filmed within the fabric of the disused cinema on Lime Street, originally commissioned in 2008 by Tate Liverpool and which I’m sure I had the pleasure of seeing at roughly the same time. That’s the problem with being interested in culture; you end up experiencing so much that now and then you’ll greet a piece for what should be the first time but always have a nagging feeling you’ve seen them somewhere before. It’s often the same with people.

The piece I’ve definitely not seen before but I’m most impressed by is Small Talk, projected across a corner opposite the entrance to the first gallery space. On first glance it seems like shots of two different petrol stations, but sit for long enough on one of the supplied stools and it becomes apparent that we’re looking at the same petrol station in two different time periods, and that subtitles which appear on both screens are having a conversation with one another, explaining that the two shots, or rather groups of shots were taken with nine years between and that one of the stations is now a car valet service.

Safe to say that it’s a work which works best if you’ve little knowledge of anything else which transpires with its eight minutes. Like Daniel Lichtman’s Powerpoint presentation at the 2010 Bloomberg New Contemporaries, it spins a simple idea and construction into a very rich work full of nostalgia and regret and in this case metatextual areas, entirely aware of its position as an art piece even to the point of explaining its own themes and influences including Jacques Demy’s film musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It’s also smart and funny; I laughed at least a dozen times throughout partly because the humour’s so unexpected but mostly because of its wit.

It’s also a reminder that good art is never abandoned. When Rooney shot the 2001 footage, it was because he liked the way the garage sat isolated against the wilderness and tried to intensify that with various choices of music but recognised that it simply didn’t work. So he sat on the footage for years, only later deciding to try and copy the footage again shot for shot. As Gus Van Sant jokes the spoof Simon & Simon recreation documentary, such things are impossible, you’ll never get things quite right. But as Rooney’s avatar says in the video, he’s made the imperfections a strength, demonstrating that you can never return to the past.


Books  Tick tock.  One of Doctor Who’s most iconic images is the drawing of the man with a clock for a face in The City of Death but its purpose within that story was never full explained beyond increasing the Doctor’s urgency in fighting Scaroth.  In Anachrophobia, Jonathan Morris, known for his love of Douglas Adams, utilises the image as the final stage of an infection of time, in which a person’s entire being becomes a moot point as their genetic make-up becomes transformed into that of a clock with a pendulum swinging in the chest.  Never mind the Grandfather paradox.  These are Grandfather clocks created through paradoxes.  Spoliers ahead.

Morris is now one of the franchise’s most prolific writers working for BBC Books, AudioGo and Big Finish, but Anachrophobia was just his second novel having scored something of a hit with his past Doctor novel, Festival of Death, which featured some Adams-like paradoxical shenanigans for the Fourth Doctor and Romana II of the kind that Steven Moffat has now made the series’s stock in trade (it’s no surprise that Morris would later take Moffat’s greatest creation, The Weeping Angels, and give them their second best story after Blink, Touched by an Angel, my favourite Doctor Who story of last year).

Anachrophobia once again tackles the perplexities of time as the Eighth Doctor and friends land on a planet at war in which time is being utilised as a weapon, halting soldiers in their tracks and increasing indefinitely the temporal length of battles without the participants realising and just to add some complexity the combatants are Plutocrats who’re intensely interested in the financial gains that war has to offer and the Defaulters who’re intent on foreclosing on their plans.  Such ideas are presumably timeless but in the past decade when everyone’s finances have been buffeted by curious trading, few Who novels have felt quite so relevant.

Our heroes are quickly ushered into a military research establishment in which a group of scientists are attempting bend the time technology to its natural conclusion in creating a time machine.  They’ve succeeded but it has a tragic side effect: anyone sent back in time returns infected, doomed to lose their past and become one of the men with a clock as a face.  The Doctor must find a way to stop the infection from reaching beyond the facility into the wider world, to prevent the music of the spheres from giving way to an hourly chime followed by three thousand six hundred seconds of ticking.

For much of its pagination, and for all its nuWho-like interest in the mutability of time, Anachrophobia’s a pretty traditional base under siege story, a pretty experimental choice by Morris for an Eighth Doctor range which tends to wriggle out of the constraints Who’s usual genres.  Even Dark Progeny eschews the implacable monster, protagonists trapped in rooms and desperate, last ditch attempts for victory which Morris employs along with the scientists doomed to become a body count and the random bureaucrats whose entire existence seems to be to make matters worse until he realises the error of his ways.

That Steed-silhouetted auditor called Mistletoe, is a classic of the type, with a thesaurus-like vocabulary, motivated only by his own personal gain but enigmatic to the point of obfuscation.  Rather like a scene stealing character actor, he’s often the most compelling element of the action and has some wonderful speeches ruminating on the inconceivably selfless motivations of the Doctor and his companions and later about the financial consequences of a war, whose cause, like the interminable battles in The Doctor’s Daughter, has become lost in the mists of time.

Now we’re really into spoiler territory as  I propose that the novel’s best scene occurs towards the end as the Doctor and his companions reach the dark heart of the Plutocratic cause and find a collection of advanced automata crunching numbers and its revealed controlling both sides of the war in a futile attempt to create the most profit, war always being good for profit, except they can’t remember why and who for.  This sees Morris at his most Adamsy, the Doctor raging with righteous indignation at the pointless loss of life on the ground and the machine logic that has led to the war tumbling on for four hundred years.

I’ve had a quick glance through contemporary reviews which reveals that Anachrophobia was especially well received on publication and its power hasn’t diminished in the intervening decade.  It’s still an extraordinary work, with frightening imagery that prefigures nuWho, The Girl in the Fireplace in its monsters but also the transformational body horror of The Empty Child.  It’s also incredibly tense in places, notably when the Doctor and Fitz put themselves in the time machine to investigate the source of the infection and the capsule is attacked from an unknown force outside, but unable to return because the scientist at the controls is being hald at gunpoint.

But this is an EDA through and through.  The Doctor isn’t just fighting the monsters, he’s fighting his own health, the loss of one of his hearts depleting his strength and affecting his decision-making abilities.  Part of Morris’s book seems to be designed to clarify some of the events of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street for those of us readers who found the chosen style difficult to take.  Sabbath ripped the “black” heart from the Doctor’s chest and with it some of his Time Lord energy it seems.  At crucial moments he has to take rests and is rarely his buoyant self.  One of the story arcs of the series ongoing is sure to be the Doctor’s quest to find a replacement heart.

There’s also Fitz ongoing existential crisis, his memory just as foggy as the Doctor’s thanks to him being a dodgy facsimile of a broken original which is used throughout to suggest that he’s become infected by the infection.  Plus Anji, still regretful and raw after the events in Hope but determined to regain the Doctor’s confidence.  It’s also a rare moment when her previous career in the city becomes vitally important knowledge in explaining the Plutocratic ideal, of the rich becoming even wealthier by manipulating the masses, treating them as no more important than figures in financial reports (which is often the only contact they have with them).

There’s also the final Coup de grace (that’s admittedly been thoroughly spoiled since) which glances backwards to that adventure and teases on the stories to follow.  That Mistletoe is revealed to be Sabbath goes some way to explaining why Larry Miles is unhappy with how his character became the Master in all but name in later novels, a disguise being the bearded one’s stock in trade, but his motivation, to remove the clockwork infection from the universe by manipulating the Doctor into being his Doctorish self, is very new.  Sabbath has “employers” and a plan within a wider context of the universe.  Jiggers.